PCOS and Autoimmune Disease: Is There a Link?

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Autoimmune Disease - Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Woman Hormone Sickness Lettering On Paper In Womans Hands

Evolving research is finding that PCOS may be associated with autoimmune disease—both potentially as an effect (PCOS may be a byproduct of an upregulated immune system and autoimmune disease), as well as a possible cause or even its own version of an autoimmune disease itself.

This discovery may explain why some women may develop PCOS without the textbook markers (such as detectable cysts on the ovaries), but instead experience other inflammatory symptoms, like hormonal imbalances (high testosterone, estrogen dominance, thyroid dysregulation), metabolic dysfunction and intestinal permeability.

Autoimmune Disease - Young Woman In Pain Lying On Couch

The Hormone-Autoimmune Disease Connection

In general, high estrogens excess have been linked to different autoimmune diseases in previous studies. 

Every single hormone cell has immune receptors. Hence, the more estrogen, the more immune activity is increased. 

PCOS is characterized both by higher androgens (testosterone) and estrogen dominance (higher estrogen, compared to progesterone), creating the perfect storm for immune up-regulation.

The PCOS-Hashimoto’s connection is one of the most common links in research. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. 

Autoimmune Disease - Young Woman Looking Herself Reflection In Mirror

One study in 175 patients found that 27% of the women with PCOS also had Hashimoto’s compared to only 8% of controls on bloodwork, and on an ultrasound, over 40% .of PCOS patients had Hashimoto’s.

Likewise other studies have confirmed similar findings—evaluating over 600 women with PCOS and confirming that, Hashimoto’s was the #1 autoimmune disease in the PCOS subjects (perhaps explaining why some women with PCOS gain weight more easily than others and have low Vitamin D levels—their thyroid function!).

All of these findings may make you question whether or not PCOS is a side effect of Hashimoto’s, or is Hashimoto’s a side effect of PCOS?

The latter may be true. 

Does PCOS Cause Autoimmune Disease or Vice Versa?

Autoimmune Disease - Blood Sample For Estrogen Hormone Test

Several studies have shown that PCOS drives inflammation and up-regulates the immune system.

In one study, researchers valuated basic autoimmune disease markers on blood work in 50 PCOS patients and 50 age-matched healthy, fertile women, finding that autoimmune disease markers (like ANA) were significantly higher in PCOS subjects than the control.

Another group of researchers identified a new type of PCOS in infertile older women, characterized by high testosterone and Hashimoto’s. (For reference: Typically PCOS “strikes” in younger menstruating women). They concluded that PCOS must be considered as a precursor (driver) in adrenal insufficiency autoimmunity. 

Genetically, women with PCOS symptomology are also more likely to have a FMR1 gene type—associated with autoimmunity and infertility. In fact, one study found almost 50% of women with infertility also have this gene type, and of these, 133 already demonstrated clinical signs of autoimmunity.

Summary: PCOS & Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease - Blood Test With Pretty Young Blond Woman By Female Doctor

If anything, PCOS clearly has an inflammatory effect on immune balance and higher estrogens pave the way for autoimmune disease tendencies in the body. 

Additionally, if these studies alone are not enough to raise a case for the link  between PCOS and autoimmune disease, the research on immune-related supports for the treatment of PCOS may be. 

Immune boosting liposomal curcumin, resveratrol and Quercetin have been shown to be effective symptom mitigators in PCOS, supporting the immune-PCOS connection theory..  

If immune support helps “calm down” the inflammation seen in PCOS, PCOS may very well be more of an immune problem than a hormone imbalance problem alone.

Get Support to Heal from PCOS

Looking for support in the recovery from PCOS or hormone imbalances? Look no further than this 20 minute Health Strategy consult to help you get to the root cause and feel good, inside handout. 

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